When I was growing up, any dish that simmered on the stove for more than an hour signaled a special occasion. Dad's chili, a hearty, meat-and-bean fest loaded cayenne, was one of those dishes. We devoured big bowls of it, cooling off our mouths with sweet Jiffy corn muffins.
I watched my barrel-chested Dad, who cooked in Hanes cotton tank tops, brown the beef and then add layers of chili powder, chopped yellow onion, minced garlic, canned chopped tomatoes, and kidney beans. To finish, he tossed a spoonful of sugar into the giant, steaming pot, and let all the flavors meld together for another hour or two or until our bellies howled with hunger.
My job was easy: I shook the cornmeal mix from the Jiffy box into a ceramic bowl, cracked an egg, and poured in skim milk. It was fail-proof, even for a 12-year-old. The muffins always turned out golden and fluffy just like the sunshine yellow muffins on the box cover.
I've made chili a couple of times since childhood but my attempts fell flat. I was no longer cooking with Dad and I missed the simple sweetness and chew of those Jiffy muffins!
Discovering Daniel Boulud's chili in his book "Braise" awakened me to a different kind of chili, a no-bean chili with various dried peppers, roasted and then ground, adding layers of heat and flavor. It inspired this version, which relies on more widely available chiles, alters technique and timing, uses a mix of fresh and processed tomatoes, and, like Dad's, adds a touch of sweet at the end. I transformed the cornbread platform into a steaming pot of polenta with fresh, sweet corn kernels and diced queso fresco, a sweet-salty combo that cools off the mouth from the arbol-pepper burn and varies the texture. Thankfully, a delicious, soulful chili no longer lives in the past. The nostalgia is here and now.
2-1/2 pounds beef chuck roast, cut into 1/2 inch cubes
1-1/2 pounds ground beef
1/4 pound slab bacon
2 tablespoons canola oil
4 garlic cloves, minced
1 large onion, diced
2 limes (juice and zest)
1 tablespoon ground cumin
1 tablespoon Mexican oregano (use regular oregano if you don’t have Mexican)
1/4 cup homemade chili powder (see recipe, below)
1 tablespoon red wine vinegar
1 tablespoon Worcestershire sauce
1 box (26.5 ounces) of Pomi chopped tomatoes
1 large, fresh garden tomato, chopped
2-1/2 cups water
1 bay leaf
2-3 tablespoons honey to taste
1/4 cup fresh cilantro
Salt and pepper to season
Heat the oil in a Dutch oven over medium heat. Brown the chuck roast cubes on all sides in 3 - 4 batches (about 5 minutes per batch), then remove from the pan. Add the slab bacon and cook until the fat is rendered. Add the diced onion and garlic and cook until soft, about 5 minutes. Add the ground beef and cook for another 5 minutes. Add the reserved beef cubes and all remaining ingredients except the cilantro, and combine. Cover on low heat for two hours. Check periodically and adjust seasoning and add water if it's too dry. Top each bowl with cilantro leaves when serving.
(makes about ¼ cup, enough for one batch of chili)
4 ancho peppers
4 guajillo peppers
4 chilies de arbol
In a dry skillet over medium heat, toast the chili peppers on all sides for 5 to 7 minutes, ensuring they do not burn. Let them cool, then stem and seed them. Grind them in a spice grinder (I tasked an old coffee grinder with the job).
1 cup polenta
1/4 cup diced queso fresco
2 ears of corn, kernels cut from the husk and set aside
1 tablespoon of butter
Salt to taste
Heat the butter in a skillet. Add the corn kernels and the salt and sauté until soft. Cook the polenta with water as package indicates. When the polenta is three-quarters of the way finished cooking, add the queso fresco and the corn. Season with salt to taste.
Pour the chili over the polenta and top with fresh cilantro.
I've been on a muffin tear for about two years and have made dozens of variations with different flours, sugars, oils, fruits, nuts, and even liqueurs. Ask Paul. He tries a new one almost every week. “What do you think?” I say, as he samples each new creation, usually before he can finish his first bite. He narrows his eyes and gets a serious look on his face while still chewing, then remarks on texture, sweetness, flavor, moistness. Each week, I tweak and adjust.
My muffin experiments have coincided with my obsession with whole grains. Aside from the health benefits of whole grains, which have high fiber and protein, whole grains taste good, especially in breads and muffins.
At the moment, amaranth rules my muffin world. The ancient whole grain, native to the Americas and once prized by Aztecs, adds a remarkable moistness and lightness to muffins. The grain, when cooked and stirred into the batter, softens the dough giving it a spongy quality while amaranth flour lightens it, adding an airiness.
I make these in advance for the week, store them in the fridge, and then reheat them in the morning on a panini grill (the single best way to reheat a muffin). Since I munch on them daily for breakfast and like a healthier alternative to the standard sugar-packed muffin, I limit the sugar in this recipe and serve them with a drizzle of raw honey. If you like a sweeter muffin, add another quarter cup of turbinado sugar.
1 cup milk
1/3 cup amaranth grain, cooked (one part amaranth to three parts water)*
1/2 cup turbinado sugar
4 tablespoons of coconut oil
1-1/2 cups whole wheat flour (I like Arrowhead Mills organic stone ground whole wheat flour)
1/2 cup amaranth flour
2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
1 teaspoon ground ginger
1 tablespoon Madagascar vanilla bean paste (use vanilla extract if you can't find the paste)
1 tablespoon baking powder
Pinch of salt
6 ounces blueberries
½ cup chopped walnuts
Preheat the oven to 375 degrees. Cook the amaranth grain according to the instructions on the package. Set aside and cool to room temperature.
In a large mixing or KitchenAid bowl, combine eggs, milk, sugar, and vanilla. If using a KitchenAid, mix with a paddle attachment. If using a mixing bowl, use a hand blender. Blend in the cooled amaranth grain and the coconut oil (if the oil is solid, warm it for 10 seconds in the microwave so it's liquid and room temperature).
In a separate bowl, combine the whole wheat flour, amaranth flour, baking powder, cinnamon, ginger, and salt, and mix well, making sure there are no clumps of baking powder.
Slowly blend the dry ingredients into the wet ingredients until mixed through. Do not over mix; this can result in a denser muffin. Blend in the blueberries and walnuts. Grease a 12-muffin tin with butter or canola oil spray. Divide batter into a muffin tin and bake for 25 minutes.
*The amaranth grain takes about 20 minutes to cook. You can cool it quickly but spreading it on a plate and putting it in the freezer for a few minutes, then adding it to the batter.
After a week of tight deadlines, doctors appointments, bills, and last minute travel preparations, I needed good food to restore me. Even more: good wine, a nice steep pour. You know the kind of week?
This is my go-to dish to return to center state. It’s healthy enough to make me feel virtuous and rich enough to serve as an indulgence. It’s also wine-friendly and pairs well with anything from pinot noir to Cotes du Rhone and Corbières.
I use wild caught coho or sockeye cut from the tail, which has no discernible bones, eliminating extra work. Wild caught salmon offers cleaner, richer flavor than its farmed counterparts, not to mention more nutrients and omega-3s.
Broiling the salmon, skin up, produces a deliciously crispy skin that Paul and I call “salmon bacon” (it's THAT good). Topped with tomato-caper vinaigrette and served over pancetta-braised lentils, the cumin-rubbed salmon shines.
I’ve been making it for years, without variation, and am amazed every time how good it is and how it centers me after a long, stressful week.
Crispy cumin salmon
3/4 pound wild caught salmon, cut from the tail
2 tablespoons dried cumin
Salt and pepper
2 tablespoons high-heat cooking oil such as canola or grapeseed
2 wedges of lemon or fresh lemon juice (to serve)
Score the salmon skin with a sharp knife, making diagonal cuts about an inch apart. Mix the cumin and a generous amount of salt and pepper with the oil to form a paste. Place the salmon on a broiler pan and slather the paste on both sides so it coats the salmon evenly. Place the salmon, skin up, under a broiler (above the middle mark of your oven but not too close to the flame) with the thickest part of the salmon under the flame. Broil for 6 – 7 minutes or until the skin is golden brown and crisp.
1/2 cup Puy lentils
2-1/4 cups chicken stock
1/2 yellow onion, finely diced
1 small carrot, finely diced
1 small celery stalk, finely diced
2 cloves garlic, minced
3 slices pancetta or 1 slice of bacon, diced
2 tablespoons olive oil
Salt and pepper to taste
In a medium-sized saucepan, heat the olive oil until hot but not smoking. Add the garlic, onions, carrots, and celery and sauté about 3 – 4 minutes. Add lentils and chicken stock. Season generously with salt and pepper. Simmer, uncovered, for about 30 – 35 minutes until the lentils are soft. Taste to adjust seasoning again before serving.
3 vine-ripened tomatoes, cored, seeded, and diced
1/2 red onion, diced
2 tablespoons capers
2 tablespoons red wine vinegar
4 tablespoons walnut oil (I prefer Spectrum brand; it has a simple, clean flavor)
4 – 5 sprigs of thyme, stems removed
Salt and pepper to taste
Combine all ingredients, mix well, and set aside.
Spoon the lentils onto two plates. Slice the salmon into two pieces and place over the lentils. Top with tomato-caper vinaigrette. Squeeze fresh lemon juice over the top or serve with a wedge of lemon on the side. Top the dish with a sprig or two of fresh thyme.
Spicy, fatty North African Merugez lamb sausage combined with caramelized onions, Bel Paese (semi-soft Italian cheese), mint pesto, and crispy kale, create a gobsmackingly good pizza.
I first posted a photo of this pizza on Facebook where it got several thumbs up, including one that came with a caveat: “but for the kale,” this person wrote. “I know it’s good for you but…” I get it. I might have said the same thing a few years back. After several attempts at a number of preparations, I finally learned to transform the tough, leafy green into some surprisingly tasty dishes, and I’m not turning back. When kale is good, it’s really good.
Oven-baked kale is one of my favorite preparations. If you roast it with oil, salt, and pepper, it crisps up nicely and tastes more like a potato chip. The slightly bitter flavor provides a nice counterpoint to the Merguez sausage, a combo that came to me while staring at my computer screen at the office, wishing I were in the kitchen instead of editing documents. I’ve been combining these flavors in various ways for several months now and the pizza seemed like a natural progression. I scribbled it down on a notepad and saved it for the weekend (despite how simple it looks, it does take some time to prepare). The experiment, partly improvised on the fly, proved so flavorful, I had to memorialize it on the blog so I could remember it for next time.
Merguez Lamb Sausage Pizza with Mint Pesto, Caramelized Onions, and Crispy Kale
1 whole wheat pizza dough recipe, below (or dough recipe of your choice)
1 mint pesto recipe, below
1 crispy kale recipe, below
2 links Merguez lamb sausage, casings removed, sautéed for 8 – 10 minutes, and then drained of excess fat
5 ounces or so of Bel Paese cheese, diced
1 red onion, thinly sliced and slowly cooked on low heat for 35 – 40 minutes
3 – 4 heirloom tomatoes (enough to cover the pizza), thinly sliced
½ cup balsamic vinegar, reduced in saucepan until it becomes a syrup
Whole wheat pizza dough
1 packet dry yeast
1-1/2 - 1-3/4 cups whole wheat flour (plus more for kneading)*
1/2 - 3/4 cup warm water (120 – 130 degrees)*
Pinch of salt
1 tablespoon olive oil
*Start with the minimum amounts, then add and adjust until your dough is smooth and firm, not sticky.
In a food processor, blend the dry ingredients. Then, slowly drizzle in the water and the oil until the dough starts to form a ball. Empty the dough onto a floured cutting board and knead for three minutes, sprinkling in more flour on the dough if it's sticky (you want a nice smooth texture that does not stick to your hand or the board). Grease a bowl with olive oil and place the dough in the bowl. Cover with plastic wrap and let sit for one hour. Once risen, knead for another 3 – 5 minutes, then roll out onto a pizza stone or cast iron pizza pan greased with olive oil. I love the pure whole wheat flour but if you like a more traditional pizza dough, add half whole wheat, half all-purpose or use an all-purpose recipe of your choice!
1 cup mint leaves
3/4 cup parsley leaves
1 small chunk (about 2 tablespoons) parmesan cheese
2 tablespoons of pine nuts
½ cup olive oil
Salt and pepper to taste
Combine all ingredients except for the oil and salt and pepper in a food processor. While blending, pour in the oil. Season to taste with salt and pepper.
1 bunch of kale, washed, stems removed, and sliced into strips
3 tablespoons canola oil
Salt and pepper
Preheat the oven to 300 degrees. Combine kale, oil, and salt and pepper. On a baking sheet, spread out in an even layer so the kale does not overlap. Bake for 30 minutes or until the kale is crispy and slightly browned.
Assembling the Pizza
Preheat the oven to 450 degrees. Roll out the dough onto a cast iron pizza pan greased with olive oil. Top the dough with slices of heirloom tomato, seasoned with salt and pepper. Bake for 7 minutes. Add the Bel Paese cheese, caramelized onions, and sausage. Bake for another 7 minutes. Top with a drizzle of mint pesto, crispy kale, and the finest drizzle of reduced balsamic vinegar. Serve immediately.
Oh, and P.S., my flash of inspiration coincided with National Pizza Month! How cool is that?
I was always the last kid to leave the lunchroom. After the other kids piled up their lunch trays and ran to the playground, I would spoon lime Jell-O into my mouth, sliver by sliver, until it was gone. I think the cafeteria ladies felt bad for me but I didn't care. I liked the way Jell-O dissolved on my tongue and how I could make each bite smaller than the last and still have a lot of flavor in my mouth.
This kid never changed. I still enjoy lingering over sweets. Rice pudding with aromatic spices has the same effect on me. It's deliciously rich and time-consuming to make, which makes it worth lingering over.
There are endless variations of rice pudding. I like semi-sweet rice pudding with fragrant spices cooked on the stovetop. Here’s my version, inspired from a Saveur recipe, which uses basmati rice. My creamy Arborio version adjusts the amount of milk and adds vanilla bean, black peppercorns (just a hint of heat!), and finishes with a touch of sweet, raw honey.
Rice Pudding with Cardamom, Pistachio, and Rose Water
Serves 2 hungry adults for breakfast or 4 for dessert
4 cups of milk
1/3 cup Arborio rice, rinsed
2 tablespoons sugar
6 cardamom pods
2 vanilla beans
4 black peppercorns
1 teaspoon rose water
2 tablespoons pistachios, toasted
Raw honey, to drizzle on top
Place the rice, milk, cardamom pods, vanilla beans, and black peppercorns in a sauce pan over medium heat. Bring to a boil, then reduce heat to a simmer. Simmer on low heat, stirring once every 2 – 3 minutes for about 35 minutes. With a small strainer, scoop out the cardamom pods and peppercorns when the mixture is still milky. Add half of the pistachios.
Continue stirring until the mixture thickens to a pudding. Served chilled or warm, straight from the sauce pan. Sprinkle the remaining pistachios and drizzle the honey on top to serve.